Did the Pope’s 2010 statement about condom use in exceptional cases show that he’s changed his mind about them? Is the CBCP defying the Vatican by denouncing the Reproductive Health Bill in spite of the Pope’s pronouncement? Between the CBCP and the Vatican, which old boys club is more bigoted? These questions are answered once and for all by the Vatican’s recent efforts at the 2011 High Level Meeting on AIDS.
But first, some background.
In June 1981, the AIDS epidemic was formally recognized in the US. Since then, medical professionals from all over the world have failed in their search for a cure. Prevention, they discovered, is our best bet.
And out of all prevention technologies invented so far, none have proven more effective than the condom. Medical authorities, including the UNAIDS, UNFPA, and WHO, agree: “the male latex condom is the single, most efficient, available technology to reduce the sexual transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.”
But to the Pope, effectiveness alone is not enough. To him, contraception is always evil and should always be banned — even if it saves lives. And of the innumerable lives lost to AIDS, most have been those of Africans. Though they’re only 14.7% of the world’s population, Africa is inhabited by more than 88% of people living with HIV. In 2007, Africa had 92% of all AIDS deaths.
Which makes the Pope’s statements in a 2009 visit to Africa all the more disgusting. He said that “HIV/Aids is a tragedy that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which can even increase the problem.”
To the Pope’s credit, he’s only being consistent. From the start, the Vatican has been lobbying to ban reproductive health programs all over the world, with no sign that they’ll ever change their position.
Then in late 2010, Pope Benedict XVI gave an interview to a German journalist for a book, Light of the World, an appropriate title because it gave a glimmer of hope. Catholics all over the world celebrated the Pope’s statements. “Finally!” they thought, “the Pope has changed his mind about contraception!” UNAIDS even made a press statement welcoming the Pope’s support for HIV prevention.
But most hopes were dashed when the Vatican clarified the Pope’s views, stating that his views on contraception have not shifted. I say “most” because many Catholics still cling to the possibility that the Pope’s statements mean more than they do, that there’s still a chance for change. Even now, some pro-RH Catholics argue that the CBCP is defying the Pope when it continues to denounce contraception. It’s happened more than once that I had to point someone toward the Vatican’s clarification.
If the Vatican’s words aren’t enough proof, their recent actions should be. Yesterday, 30 years into the AIDS epidemic, the 2011 High Level Meeting on AIDS started, serving as another opportunity for the world to “come together to review progress and chart the future course of the global AIDS response.” For the Vatican, it’s another opportunity to take a stand against reproductive health, medical progress, and women’s rights.
When it comes to choosing solutions, the standard for most members is effectiveness in the real world; for the Vatican, it’s adherence to instructions from Heaven. Here are just some of the suggestions made by the Pope’s “all-male team”:
- stripping all references to sexual and reproductive health and rights from the meeting’s declaration
- gutting all mentions of education and prevention other than marriage and fidelity
- insisting that “families” be replaced with “the family”, as though that monolith even exists or that it provides some kind of magic shield against HIV
- deleting all mention of “female-controlled prevention methods
- deleting the following sentence: “… by ensuring that women and girls can exercise their right to have control over, and decide freely and responsibly on, matters related to their sexuality in order to increase their ability to protect themselves from HIV infection, including their sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.”
The Pope, with his bigoted bishops representing the Vatican, are an enemy of progress, not only in dealing with HIV and AIDS, but in promoting reproductive health, informed choice, and women’s rights.
I hope the Vatican’s actions help Filipino Catholics realize that the CBCP is not alone in their bigotry. The CBCP has no mind (of its own). All of their statements and actions are dictated by the Vatican. “You will know them by their fruit.”
And I hope the UN ignores the Vatican’s representatives and realizes that inviting them is ultimately counterproductive. On second thought, maybe the Vatican’s objections can serve as useful indications: If the Pope protests, you’re probably onto something good.